Updated: Jun 9, 2020
by Juliette Coleman
Edited by Chloe Gross
Talking with Mingjiia about how she choose to address the pandemic, in a gentler way.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and where you are staying right now?
I was living in Toronto until this whole thing happened, and now I'm a little bit north in Aurora, living with my family. I'm a singer, a composer, an instrumentalist, an improviser, and I play a lot of my own music, sometimes with my band called The Tortoise Orchestra, and I play in a lot of cool bands like Pleasure Craft and… and other bands, you don't need the whole list.
What was happening in your life before COVID-19?
I was in the middle of making a record. And there wasn't one major thing that I was working on it was just the usual kind of like freelance life where a lot of projects were happening and had to be canceled. It was also a crazy time for me personally. It feels really weird because we're experiencing this pandemic, but it also felt like a miniature pandemic in my personal life at the same time. I was moving out of my home, even before this whole thing happened and just going through a lot of changes so it all feels really surreal.
"I think overall, all of the thinking and maybe overthinking has been positive because it's also made me recognize just how important community is in terms of music and also just everything."
How have you been dealing with being isolated from your friends and your community?
So many feelings, I don't even know where to begin! This period has given me a lot more time to process what's happening. I think this is my Capricorn sun peeking out. Usually I'm very, kind of, goal oriented, always on the move, always being like "Okay we're doing this, this, this, this" and it's always really fun. With this whole thing, I’ve had to really pause and look at things from different angles, which has been good but there's also been way more to process than normally.
I went through a period being like "What am I doing for the world" you know? I think it's a little bit easier to kind of manage that or almost not manage it and get away with it, when there isn't a pandemic going on. It's like that expression; the flashlight cannot flash unto itself. You know, you don't really know what's going on until you take a step back.
I think overall, all of the thinking, and maybe overthinking has been positive because it's also made me recognize just how important community is in terms of music and also just everything. Especially now that it's sort of been taken away and potentially changed forever. And I mean, I'm living physically far from my community right now because I'm living with my parents. And even though I wouldn't really be able to see people anyway if I we're in Toronto, it still feels like, uhhh... I don't know…sad.
You released an album with Kieran Smyth, ‘everything is going to be ok’. Could you tell me a bit about that and why you decided to release it when you did?
So, this album...I don't even really know what to call it because you know sometimes there's albums where the artist is like, "I put five years into this, and we reached out to all the radio stations and there's like eight music videos" And then there's like, "this is a mixtape that I put on SoundCloud." I think this album, quote unquote, is somewhere in between that. It's more of a documentation of songs that Kieran and I have been performing over the last two years or so. And we actually didn't really know if we were going to release it, we had these recordings since October, and they were unmixed. Basically, we just got lucky and our friend had access to a recording space.
We were talking about being an artist and feeling like "What am I doing for the world?", and I thought well we have these recordings maybe we can turn it into a fundraiser, or something that addresses the pandemic in a way that's maybe softer, and a little more gentle and has the capacity to do some good.
We just figured, why not. Kieran's done a lot of these types of smaller scale projects, he's done a lot of solo albums where he edited and engineered everything himself and I've never really done that, that's not been part of my world. So it's a little bit more intimate than what I'm used to, which I think is important for right now because intimacy is something that for me I'm struggling with through all of this.
Why did you choose to donate some of the proceeds from the album to the Anduhyaun Shelter?
Well actually we donated all of the proceeds and they're still rolling in! We were going through a couple different charities, and organizations and we were like, okay, we have to put the foot down because it's a time sensitive thing you know people need help now. We chose the Anduhyaun Shelter (http://anduhyaun.org/) because domestic violence and abuse has seen a huge rise since this whole thing started and that shelter helps primarily Indigenous women and children, and that was something that was really important to us.
Are you thinking and/or have you spoken to other artists in your community about what concerts and gatherings are going to be like when the world isn’t in 'pandemic mode'?
I mean it's so emotional to think about. At least for me, it's kind of impossible not to talk to people about it because it's something that people are thinking about, so it keeps coming up. A lot of my friends have very different feelings about all of it. I know a lot of my peers are feeling, maybe not pessimistic but kind of cautious, saying it might be a year or even years before concerts come back and I honestly have no idea. I've just kind of been taking it a day at a time, and being like, well, when it comes back, I'll be very happy.
The thing is that nobody knows what's gonna happen and before the pandemic we all had some idea that, we would know what the future looks like or that we have some control but honestly nobody has any control over anything ever. I'm a pretty anxious person but I'm trying not to think about anything in the future that might cause me any sort of anxiety that I can't do anything about right now. I'm also pretty lucky that a lot of my work is performance based but a lot of it I'm able to do remotely like composing and doing commissions and things like that. So, I don't feel forced to think about that future yet. Maybe that day will come soon.
What sort of things have you been seeing and experiencing online that have been helped you cope with the isolation?
Social media right now is like a curse and a blessing, as it normally is. Now that everyday kind of feels the same, I'm way more in tune to how small changes I encounter will impact me. I just saw a picture of Margaret Glaspy, and she posted this really fun pink outfit and was like, "Here's my outfit!" Even though it's just a really casual thing, all of a sudden, I was made more aware of objects and concrete things, and what they might feel like, and what things look like. I think what made that post really important is you don't really get that anymore. So a lot of really small things have made me really happy because those are some of the things that get overlooked, at least for me when I think about what's important to share. Especially now that sharing is a dangerous thing and all the things I love sharing have become things to avoid like public spaces, sharing touch, and sharing time with people.
Has anything else been on your mind lately?
I get really nervous for these types of things. I will just not be able to do anything for a really long time before the interview and I think it's because it’s kind of a vulnerable thing, right? I'm here, like we're talking and I'm telling you about all this stuff and then it's going to get posted to the world. And I was like, what do I have to offer? I feel like I'm still in shock mostly. I haven't really thought through everything to the degree that I want to but then I thought about how something that's been really hard but also really rewarding is almost being pushed into acceptance.
It also comes in bursts, like most days I’m in shock and then I sit down and, you know, try to calm my body. Then I'm like, "This thing is real and it's actually happening". So, yeah, I don't know what my point is in all that but hopefully whoever's reading it will get something out of it.